FRESNO — Amtrak's San Joaquin line, the valley's only passenger train service, posted record ridership in 2012, attracting more than 1.1 million passengers last year.
The number of people riding the rails comes even as controversy continues to boil over plans to run high-speed trains through the region from San Francisco to Los Angeles.
The Amtrak San Joaquins six daily trains northbound and six southbound between Bakersfield and the Bay Area and Sacramento also saw revenue from ticket sales rise in the 2012 fiscal year to about $38.7 million. That's a boost of about $3 million, or 8.3 percent, over 2011.
The growth in ridership on the valley trains corresponds to similar increases seen by Amtrak nationwide a record 31.2 million passengers, said Christina Leeds, an Amtrak spokeswoman.
Much of the growth nationwide was in the Northeast Corridor and on the West Coast. Three of Amtrak's six busiest corridors were in California the Pacific Surfliner trains that run from San Diego to San Luis Obispo, the Capitol Corridor line that links Sacramento to San Jose, and the San Joaquins, which saw a 7.2 percent jump in ridership.
Amtrak attributes the growth to improving passenger services including e-tickets and WiFi aboard its trains, and travelers who are weary of high fuel prices for automobiles as well as congested highways and airports.
Yet despite the rising ridership and revenue from ticket sales, the San Joaquins along with Amtrak's other California lines and many others across the country remain money-losing propositions. In its 2013 budget projections, the National Railroad Passenger Corp., the formal name for Amtrak, estimated a loss of $5.79 for every passenger riding on the San Joaquin trains.
Of 45 Amtrak passenger train lines across the United States, only five make money. Among the money-losers, only three lose less per passenger than the San Joaquins.
The San Joaquins, along with the Pacific Surfliner and Capitol Corridor trains, are run by Amtrak under contracts with Caltrans' Division of Rail, which subsidizes the service. Caltrans supports the San Joaquin Corridor to the tune of about $90 million a year.
Smaller towns along the route fear that the California High-Speed Rail Authority's proposed plans will not only bypass their communities but also close down the Amtrak service on which their residents rely. Earlier this year, however, Caltrans officials pledged to maintain Amtrak service on the existing corridor.